NBC’s fall programming includes one outstanding – but graphically brutal and violent – drama, and several inoffensive but disposable situation comedies.
Recently, the first episodes of new fall series on each broadcast network were shown at the Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles. This post examines the new fall 2013 shows on NBC.
Mondays, 10:00 p.m. ET
Premieres: September 23
Twenty years ago, brilliant career intelligence analyst Raymond Reddington abandoned his family and vanished into the dark world of international finance, espionage, and terrorism, becoming a worldwide “information broker” and one of the U.S. government’s most wanted targets. Suddenly, Reddington reappears and surrenders himself to the FBI, claiming news of a terrorist threat to the nation. For reasons known only to himself, Reddington insists on dealing only with Liz Keen, a young “profiler” who has just graduated from FBI training school. The naïve but driven Liz and the selfish, smug Reddington engage in a constant battle of wits: she trying to get information out of Reddington while maintaining a normal outside life; he withholding information and seeking to “groom” Liz for his own purposes. But when the manipulative Reddington reveals that her husband Tom’s entire life with her has been a lie, Liz is ready to press for more answers…even if it means following where Reddington leads.
In tone and content, The Blacklist strongly resembles basic cable dramas like Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy, with an extremely dark worldview and large amount of graphic, brutal, and realistic violence. A terrorist tortures Tom in an extended sequence, beating him bloody and stabbing him repeatedly as Liz is forced to watch. Liz later stabs Reddington to get information, and is the victim of a terrorist attack with machine guns, car crashes, and explosives, during which a little girl is abducted and threatened. The program is a cunning take on the serial killer/“profiler” procedurals which have recently littered television, with the twist that Reddington isn’t a killer and is already in custody – he simply possesses information which the government wants, and is a master at manipulating situations to get what HE wants. James Spader brings his patented smarmy, smug, and superior attitude, perfected on Boston Legal, to the part of Reddington, and Megan Boone’s Liz is a character with whom audiences will sympathize; but despite its clever storytelling, The Blacklist is far too brutal, violent, and intense for children and even older teens.
Wednesdays, 10:00 p.m. ET
Premieres: October 2
Ironside is a “reimagining” of the 1970s crime drama about police detective Bob Ironside who was shot and crippled in the line of duty, and who now leads his own squad of detectives despite being confined to a wheelchair. Helping the steely boss who is willing to break the rules to see justice done are his hand-picked aides: tough Virgil, “rich kid” Teddy (an expert on investigating financial crimes), and loyal Holly, who comes from a major crime family. Frustrating Ironside with his “by-the-book” approach is his boss, Capt. Ed Rollins. Another frustration for Ironside is his former partner Gary, an emotional wreck who holds himself responsible for Ironside being crippled.
As a gritty crime drama, violence and sexual content are to be expected from the show. The first episode dealt with a young woman’s apparent suicide; in addition to a close-up of her shattered corpse with a huge pool of blood beneath it, viewers saw pictures of and heard about her involvement with sex orgies and drugs. Ironside himself is fully willing to threaten, beat, and torture suspects in order to get information. Other more minor instances of violence follow. Ironside is also shown having sex with his scantily-clad trainer. While Blair Underwood brings a dynamic portrayal to the part of Ironside, there is little else about the program to recommend it in a TV landscape already littered with police programs; and its violence and gritty themes may make it problematic viewing for younger watchers.
Welcome to the Family
Thursdays, 8:30 p.m. ET
Premieres: October 3
Junior Hernandez is a perfect kid: a polite, hard-working high-school valedictorian headed for a brilliant academic career at Stanford. Molly is an airhead whose academic plans are to spend college partying – a prospect which delights her parents, Dan and Caroline, who look forward to having her out of their house. There’s just one glitch: Molly is pregnant – and Junior is the father. The two are deeply in love, and Junior puts his plans on hold and proposes to Molly; but when their families are introduced to each other, Dan and Junior’s father, Miguel, dislike each other on sight, and the stage is set for further conflict as the two families try to become one.
For a 21st century TV sitcom – particularly one with teen pregnancy as the underlying premise — the first episode was remarkably restrained regarding sexual content, with the most prominent element being Dan’s repeated claims that he and Caroline “are gonna be having so much sex” once Molly moves out. Despite the premise, Welcome to the Family largely appears to be a throwback to the cleaner, family-conflict comedies of the past, with a likeable cast of funny characters and humor suitable for families…with the caveat that, since this IS a 21st century TV sitcom, the program could degrade into crass sexual “comedy” in short order.
Sean Saves the World
Thursdays, 9:00 p.m. ET
Premieres: October 3
Sean is a recently out-of-the-closet gay man. When he came out, his wife Jill left him to care for their 14-year-old daughter Ellie. Helping Sean on the home front is his sarcastic mother, Lorna; while at his job at an online retail firm, Sean must deal with his flaky assistant Liz and controlling but irrational boss Max.
The first episode included a fair amount of dialogue about sex. Daughter Ellie asks her father, “If you were gay, how did you and mom have sex?”, while Linda Lavin as Lorna makes frequent references to “getting lucky tonight.” While the cast is likeable enough (Thomas Lennon as Max is apparently attempting to channel John Cleese), some parents may be put off by the show’s sexual dialogue and frequent use of profanity and gay stereotype (while climbing out a window, Sean whines, “Don’t look at my ass!”, for example). Overall, Sean Saves the World is an utterly disposable comedy with nothing outstanding to recommend it.
The Michael J. Fox Show
Thursdays, 9:30 p.m. ET
Premieres: September 26
Mike Henry was New York’s top and most beloved local anchorman – until he was stricken with Parkinson’s disease. Mike retired to “spend more time with his family”; but his family – wife Annie, college dropout son Ian, high-school daughter Eve, little Graham, and live-in sister Leigh – really wish he’d find something else to occupy his time. Their wish comes true when TV station boss Harris lures Mike back to work, though Mike remains suspicious that Harris only wants to exploit his disability for “feel-good” puff pieces.
Like his character Mike Henry, Michael J. Fox delighted a generation, both as Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties, and as Marty McFly in the Back to the Future film trilogy. Viewers will no doubt be happy to see him back on television; but while this program and Fox personally deserve to be honored for putting a human face on, accurately portraying, and even joking about Fox’s real-life struggles with Parkinson’s, at least on the first episode so much of the show is about struggles with Parkinson’s that there is little humor, tension, or characterization. Only Fox’s own considerable personal charisma and likeability carry the show. That said, the content of the program is largely inoffensive, and fans of Fox may watch the show with little concern about what their children may see.
Not available for preview: Dracula